Can Cats Have Down Syndrome?

Can cats have Down syndrome? I love my cats. I can’t help thinking they’re human sometimes. But isn’t that something we’re all guilty of? We give our pets names and ask them what’s wrong when they act strange. We wonder what emotional tragedies they might be experiencing. We can’t help but think they’re smiling when they spread their mouths a little too wide. So is it strange that we would expect them to have some equivalent of the diseases that afflict us?

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I remember the first time I heard about the concept of feline Down syndrome; I had heard of Monty, the cat with more Facebook followers than most of us could ever dream of, and his two compassionate pet parents. Monty definitely shows the outward appearance of someone with Down syndrome: The wide-apart eyes, the lack of muscle tone, the poor co-ordination… But how could we be sure he really had the disease? I decided immediately that I would do my research about it and do an article for my readers. A few long bouts of procrastination later, here it is!


The Basics of Downs Syndrome in Humans

Down syndrome in human beings is caused by an extra chromosome in the 21st pair. It also happens to be called trisomy 21 because of the fact that extra chromosome always occurs in the 21st pair. Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes, bringing the total to 46 chromosomes.

There are certain distinct physical traits that people with Down syndrome have. These include a short neck, a small chin, slanted eyes, abnormally shaped ears, and maybe a crease on the palm. This doesn’t mean that everyone with Down syndrome has all of these physical features, but they are the most common. People with Down syndrome are also known to have lower IQs than normal. They also experience stunted growth and typically mature much later than their healthy counterparts.

Feline Down Syndrome

Okay, so that’s how humans have it! What would a cat’s version of Down syndrome look like? First of all, the maths doesn’t work out on a chromosome level. Remember when I said the other name for Down syndrome is trisomy 21, and that humans have 46 chromosomes? It turns out that acts only have 38 chromosomes, in 19 pairs. They don’t have a 21st pair of chromosomes so they can’t have the particular mutation that causes Down syndrome.

Despite the fact that cats can’t have trisomy 21, they sometimes have the physical characteristics of Down syndrome similar to humans. Cats like Monty are a good example here. These characteristics include being clumsy, wide-set eyes, stunted ears, upturned noses, and a face with a shape that’s a bit off.

These features might make it look like a cat has Down syndrome, and it’s understandable that the pet parent would think so. However, it isn’t possible for cats to have the exact type of Down syndrome that afflicts human beings.

Feline Down Syndrome (FDS) is a thing though. It’s not officially recognized by doctors, but the name does get used from time to time when a cat exhibits Down syndrome-like characteristics. It’s important, however, to understand that not all the symptoms imply Down syndrome. Sometimes cats have something totally different!

Suffering from Issues Other than Down Syndrome

The first thing a pet parent will likely notice that might lead them to diagnose their cat with Down syndrome is odd behaviour. This includes things like the cat having an odd walking style or lacking coordination. Granted, not all cats have odd behaviour, and they do have a reputation for being graceful. However, if your cat has odd behaviour that doesn’t automatically mean it has Down syndrome. It might be some entirely different condition that’s afflicting your cat. Or it just might be one of the quirks of the cat.

Sometimes even the vet can misdiagnose your little feline friend. Some vets might hastily diagnose a cat as having Down syndrome without being aware of other genetic disorders the cat might be suffering from. For starters, irregular facial features are something all nearly all cats with some kind of genetic disorder have in common. Conditions like the Klinefelter syndrome might also cause physical mutations that a vet might mistake for Down syndrome symptoms. The solution is simple: always get a second opinion. Even if the vet who gave you the diagnosis has been your cat’s vet throughout the years and you trust them fully, it doesn’t hurt to get a second opinion.

Cats also inbreed sometimes. Inbreeding is actually quite normal for cats. When two cats with the same genetic structure mate, they face an increased risk of having offspring with genetic mutations. This is even worse when the cats are immediate siblings. If the vet or pet owner doesn’t know the cat is inbred, then they’re likely to misdiagnose it with feline Down syndrome.

Cats Can’t Have Down Syndrome

Again, can cats have Down syndrome? Let’s settle on a little truth: cats can’t actually have Down syndrome. They can have a lot of different physical and behavioural peculiarities that are similar to those of humans with Down syndrome, but these don’t necessarily mean your can has Down syndrome.

Your cat could potentially suffer from mental health issues or intellectual disabilities (yes, cats have some kind of intellect). It might be a bit absent minded most of the time, or fail to respond to you calling it, or be clumsy or even fail to be properly aware of its surroundings.

There can be a variety of factors that determine all of these things, and they can vary from genetic mutations to curable illnesses. However, none of them come from the same kind of condition that causes Down syndrome in humans.

A lot of the cats diagnosed with Down syndrome look and act a little different from other cats. Maybe the ears aren’t straight and pointy like they should be or the cat isn’t as alert as you’d expect. Remember, however, that each cat is unique and you shouldn’t expect yours to completely look like the others.

What You Should Do

Feline Down Syndrome is an unofficial disorder, but no reputable vet will diagnose your cat with this disorder. Cats have a different structure to their chromosomes from humans so they can’t actually have Down syndrome.

Once you take your cat to a reputable vet, they will perform some tests on your cat and try to find out if it might have some emotional or physical issues at hand. They could do some X-rays, blood tests, genetic tests, etc. in order to determine if what kind of healthcare your cat might need.

The important thing is to take your cat to the vet and to not make assumptions about the state of its health. Cats need tender love and care, just like human beings. They need attention, a healthy diet, and adequate healthcare.

Wrapping Up

Cats are great creatures! I can comfortably say that the best thing that ever happened to me was getting mine. We have best friends and partners in crime over the years. There are times when she looks at me and I can’t help feeling like she’s trying to say something very important to me, like the phrase “I love you”, but she’s doing it in her own silent way. That doesn’t mean, however, that we should always imbue our pets with anthropomorphic qualities. Let’s accept them as special in their own way and love them anyway!

Rebecca Welters

Yes, I am that weird cat lady with 200 cats and live in the darkest corner of the city where no one dares to go! Joking! But I am a cat lover and have 2 Ragdoll cats called Toby, he's 3 years old and Dory, she's 8 years old. I'm 36 years old and live in the quiet town of Washington.

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